22 Understanding

I am the Death Bringer. I am the Slayer of Innocents. I am the Sword of Vengeance in the Fist of Justice. I am a puppet in the hands of politicians filled with a bloodlust they dare not satisfy for themselves. I am falling apart.

I tried to talk it through with my sister last time I called home but all she said was, “What did you think the armed forces were for? Did you think you were going to invite IS and Al-qaida and Boko Haram round to the base for crochet classes? You have been trained to kill, Ed. Did you think it was all just so much role play?”

“I joined up to keep the peace...” I mumbled in reply, “and if there was any killing to be done, it would only be the bad guys...”

I couldn't see her but I felt her roll her eyes. “The bad guys! Who exactly are the bad guys, here?”

I know that every time she thinks of me, she sees the bad guys. Because every time I look at myself, I see them.

When I look into the eyes of my comrades, in every pair I see something different. Some show barely disguised despair; others show pleasure that they are making use of their skills; more than one pair is filled with madness.

When I joined the Royal Air Force, she gave me a copy of 'Catch-22' but it's only while I've been here on Cyprus, waiting for the order to attack, that I've actually had time to read it. I wish I'd read it earlier when I could've simply enjoyed the madness that Yossarian negotiates every day. Now it fills me with dread. I am not Yossarian. I do not especially fear for my own life when I take my plane out. It is the lives of those I drop my bombs on that I fear for. In my dreams, I see the broken bodies – no, the indiscriminate lumps of meat – that I leave in my wake.

Yossarian's Catch-22 is that he can only be signed off active duty if he is judged to be insane. The fact that he fears for his life at the hands of the enemy, who shoot at his plane with anti-aircraft guns, demonstrates that he is sane and so he cannot be signed off. If he was insane, he would have no fear and would not ask to be signed off.

My Catch-22 is that I voluntarily signed up for active service, knowing that my job as an RAF fighter pilot would be to kill people. I cannot, therefore, complain when my superiors order me to do my job. I cannot say, “I don't want to take my plane out today, sir, and drop bombs and kill people.” My sister might roll her eyes but my commanding officer would have me court martialled. I am in a trap of my own making.

I could run away, I suppose, go AWOL. Be branded a coward by the public. My family already consider me a fool. Could public opinion possibly hurt more than theirs?

And what of my government? The three hundred and odd Members of Parliament who voted to send me out with my little cylinders of death? What are they hoping to achieve through my actions? This is their war not mine. Why are they not here, dropping bombs? Why is it me?

They do not wake in the night from dreams filled with blood and rubble. They do not fear that for every 'terrorist' killed, a dozen or twenty or a hundred innocents also die. And they do not seem to understand that for every innocent killed, a dozen or twenty or a hundred terrorists are created. Or they just do not care.

I joined up to keep the peace and if there was any killing to be done, it would be the killing of bad guys. It would not be the innocent. And I thought I would always understand the argument for war, the reason why my government sent me out to kill in its behalf.

But now I understand. I was a fool.

22 Understanding

Timely

Date: 25/12/2015 | By: Evan Henry

This is a chilling peek into a future where things have escalated. Scary to think about. The last few paragraphs (well, mostly the bit about going AWOL) reminded me of the Bowe Berghdal story currently playing out in the US. Not sure if that's gotten much news attention in the UK. If you're not familiar with it, I recommend catching up on the second season of the Serial podcast.

Well-written, as always, Rose!

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